July 21, 2006

The Monolithic, Warmongering Establishment: When There's No One Left to Kill

Greg Mitchell writes about the uniformity of views offered by the journalistic establishment:
While it's not surprising that nearly every editorial page in the U.S. has offered support for Israel's right to retaliate against Hamas and Hezbollah, it's a disgrace that few have expressed outrage, or at least condemnation, over the extent of death and destruction in and around Beirut -- and the attacks on the country's infrastructure, which harms most citizens of that country.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in Lebanon, dozens of bridges and part of Beirut's airport destroyed, power stations and ports short-circuited. Latest reports put the number of refugees at half a million, with thousands of Americans waiting for evacuation.

Amazingly, criticism of the extent of Israel's bombing -- and its policy of collective punishment -- has actually decreased as the carnage has mounted.

The editorial response is all the more scandalous because this is not some distant conflict where America is merely a third party. The U.S. is Israel’s prime (sometimes virtually its only) major ally, and the funder or producer of much of the armaments landing on Lebanon – though you’d never know of this special link from reading most of these editorials.

Even if readers here don’t fully appreciate it, the U.S. and Israel are indivisible in the eyes of many if not most in that region. Every bomb that kills civilians in Lebanon might just as well have emerged from our war planes or artillery, in their eyes.


Many editorials carry outright misinformation; others act as if the history of this conflict can be measured in weeks, not decades. And few op-ed columnists have condemned the over-the-top Israeli behavior. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times managed to not even mention Beirut in his Wednesday column rightly ripping Hezbollah.

But he's far from alone: Few of the key liberal bloggers -- usually quick to condemn civilian casualties in Iraq -- have taken up the issue.

Several leading newspapers that did express disapproval of the Israeli air war late last week, when it was still fairly minimal, then published editorials a few days later with hardly any mention of the attacks on Beirut – even though those shellings had increased dramatically. One had to wonder what sort of complaints or second thoughts the first editorials produced to slacken those spines.


Meanwhile, Israel officials said today the bombing could go on for weeks. And no wonder, and with so little condemnation in this country.


Oddly, one could find wisdom in some surprising settings. Consider this passage from The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette: "Hezbollah is not answerable to the Lebanese government, and heavy-handed tactics will only further inflame the region. ...Lebanese civilians, only recently freed from the presence of Syrian forces, looked forward to emerging from a dark period and rebuilding their country. They have no control over these events. Terrorizing them serves no purpose."

And the Columbus (Oh) Dispatch, not known for its dovish views, declared: "While Israel rightly is outraged by the continuing terrorist attacks...its ferocious response has cost it the moral high ground in this latest dispute....As long as Israel remains insensitive to the vastly disproportionate hardship it inflicts in this lopsided conflict, it will earn more disapproval from the world and, most important, will sow ever more bitter determination in its enemy.

"And no one in the Middle East will sleep at night."
In another article two days later, Editor & Publisher found this one-sided media presentation unchanged:
As the current explosion of violence in the Middle East continues toward its tenth day, some U.S. newspapers on their editorial pages are now calling for a new diplomatic push, but almost none of them have condemned the Israeli attack on civilian areas and the infrastructure of Lebanon, which the country's chief of state said Wednesday is "tearing the country to shreds." At least 300 have died in Lebanon and the attacks have created over half a million refugees, roughly one in eight residents of the country.

An E&P survey of editorials in dozens of papers around the country during the past three days found almost none of them raising objections to the extent of the Israeli bombardment so far, though some expressed fears that it might go on too long.


Other papers did raise some concerns, but only "if this conflict drags on," as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune put it. Then, it added, the continuing attacks on Lebanon would risk "grave civilian casualties and a corrosive deepening of the region’s polarization"—which many would argue has already occurred because of the targeting of infrastructure and civilian areas. USA Today, meanwhile, noted that "calibrating" a response was difficult, as it urged Israel to be "tough and smart."

One of the few papers to raise immediate concerns about the level of bombing was the Palm Beach Post. It quoted Ari Shivat, columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He argued that while Israel is waging its "most just war in history" it is also acting "without logic, without order and without a defined strategic objective," and called for a 72-hour ceasefire. The Post said that Israel’s bombing of Beirut and other civilian sites "has caused needless civilian deaths and damage to Lebanon…In this fight, Israel has the right cause. Israel can win if it succeeds in isolating Hezbollah, not itself."

The San Francisco Chronicle on Wedneday noted, "The Bush administration’s response has been to stay out of Israel’s way, save for a few benign statements about a need for restraint. The world can’t afford to wait."

Only the Capital Times of Madison, Wisc. placed its focus on Israel’s Lebanon air campaign, quoting the former head of the American Jewish Congress and a former Israeli Cabinet member to back up its claim that the level of Israel’s response was making "a bad situation worse."
With regard to the coming still broader Middle East war, it's been entirely clear for many years, and long predating 9/11, that Iran was the major target in the neocons' sights. What is astonishing and alarming is that the identical view has now been fully accepted and endorsed by almost the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment, as well as by Congress. And as I've previously noted and as Jim Lobe reports, this same view is held by Republicans and Democrats alike:
The week-old Israeli-Hezbollah conflict is likely to boost the chances of U.S. military action against Iran, according to a number of regional experts who see a broad consensus among the U.S. political elite that the ongoing hostilities are part of a broader offensive being waged by Tehran against Washington across the region.

While Israel-centered neoconservatives have been the most aggressive in arguing that Hezbollah's July 12 cross-border attack could only have been carried out with Iran's approval, if not encouragement, that view has been largely accepted and echoed by the mainstream media, as well as other key political factions, including liberal internationalists identified with the Democratic Party.

"In my reading, this is the beginning of what was a very similar process in the period, between [the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon] and the Iraq war," according to Gregory Gause, who teaches Middle East politics at the University of Vermont.


Indeed, almost as if to prove the point, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution that not only endorsed Israel's military actions in Gaza and Lebanon without calling on it to exercise any restraint, but also urged U.S. President George W. Bush to impose across-the-board diplomatic and economic sanctions on Tehran and Damascus. The House of Representatives was expected to pass a similar resolution Wednesday.

To Gause and other analysts, Tehran, even before the current crisis, offered a tempting target of blame for Washington's many frustrations in the region.


[Iran's] repeated rejection of U.S. demands that it respond to the pending proposal for a deal on its nuclear program adds to the thesis that Iran is engaged in its own form of asymmetric warfare against Washington. Indeed, it has become accepted wisdom here that Iran encouraged Hezbollah's July 12 raid as a way to divert attention from growing international concern over its nuclear program.

"There has been a lot of connecting of the dots back to Iran," according to ret. Col. August Richard Norton, who teaches international relations at Boston University. "This goes well beyond the [neoconservative] Weekly Standard crowd; we've seen the major newspapers all accept the premise that what happened July 12 was engineered in some way by Iran as a way of undermining efforts to impede its nuclear program"

"[There has been a] buildup of domestic forces that now see Iran as inexorably at the center of the entire regional spider web," noted Graham Fuller, a former top Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and RAND Corporation Middle East expert. "The mainstream is unfortunately grasping for coherent explanations, [and] the neocon/hard right offers a fairly simple, self-serving vision on the cause of the problems, and their solution."

In much the same way that Saddam Hussein was depicted, particularly by neoconservatives, as the strategic domino whose fall would unleash a process of democratization, de-radicalization, moderation, and modernization throughout the Middle East, so now Iran is portrayed as the "Gordian Knot" whose cutting would not only redress many of Washington's recent setbacks, but also renew prospects for regional "transformation" in the way that it was originally intended.

The notion that, as the puppet master behind Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Shia militias in Iraq, an aggressive and emboldened Iran is the source of Washington's many problems has the added virtue of relieving the policy establishment here of responsibility for the predicament in which Washington finds itself or of the necessity for "painful self-examination, or serious policy revision," according to Fuller.


As was the case with Iraq, the only dissenters among the policy elite are the foreign policy "realists," who argue that this administration, in particular, has made a series of disastrous policy errors in the Middle East – especially by providing virtually unconditional support for Israel and invading Iraq.

They also include regional specialists like Norton, who maintain that the depiction of Hezbollah, for example, as a mere proxy for Iran – let alone the notion that Tehran was behind the July 12 attack – is a dangerous misreading of a much more complex reality.
This is the perfect storm in terms of what it bodes for the future. Among other things, it demonstrates still another time the importance of a strong and simple narrative: as the media and the foreign policy establishment search desperately for a simple, easy-to-grasp explanation of the exploding mayhem in the Middle East, the neocons come to their rescue -- and all these pitiful people, so eager for yet another war, gratefully accept the deadly offer.

As Lobe points out, just as toppling Iraq would lead to the fantasy world of regional transformation and peace, now regime change in Iran serves the identical purpose. And if you want to know why events have turned out so disastrously, that's all Iran's fault, too. This is once again a critical part of the "Western exceptionalism" myth that drives our foreign policy, just as it has driven it for over a century: no matter what happens, nothing is ever the fault of the United States. Our intentions are always impossibly pure, and we always "mean well." If things go horribly wrong and if hundreds of thousands of people die, it couldn't possibly be our fault or the result of our actions.

Now, with the widening crisis brought on by Israel's continuing assault on Lebanon, Iran is the all-purpose Ultimate Evil. Take care of Iran, and you take care of everything else -- that is the story accepted and being aggressively peddled by our media, by the foreign policy establishment, and by virtually every Republican and Democrat.

It's genuinely sickening and pathetic, as well as intellectually reprehensible. Here we are, the strongest and most militarily fearsome power in the entire history of the world. We could completely obliterate any enemy many times over. And yet, not only have we almost never taken the saying, "Give peace a chance," seriously: we don't even know what it means.

War is our first choice in almost every crisis. One of these days, we may finally have our wish fulfilled in its ultimate form -- and only afterwards will we realize there's no one left to kill.

There's a thought to cheer you up.

A number of earlier essays on related topics are noted at the conclusion of this post from yesterday.